Natchez hospitals to consolidate, will share leadership in interim

Published 3:26 pm Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NATCHEZ — Natchez Regional Medical Center and Natchez Community Hospital will continue to operate as two hospitals in the short term, but will share top administrators and governing boards until they can be combined.

The consolidation of the hospitals at the NRMC campus is positioned to begin in early 2015, officials with Community Health Systems said.

CHS, which has owned Natchez Community Hospital for nearly a year and officially purchased Natchez Regional Medical Center Wednesday, announced Natchez Community Hospital Chief Executive Officer Eric Robinson will also serve as NRMC’s CEO, replacing Donny Rentfro.

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NCH’s Nursing Executive Lee Hinson will take the place of Regional’s Barbara Willis as chief nursing officer, and Nicholas Renda — a CHS corporate employee — will serve as interim chief financial officer while the company conducts a national search to replace Regional CFO Charles Mock.

NCH’s current board of trustees will also serve as NRMC’s board, though company officials characterized the arrangement as two boards composed of the same members to distinguish between operations.

The boards are tasked with credentialing of physicians and overseeing the quality of the medical staff. They do not have the same amount of financial control as the former NRMC board.

“Our community’s hospitals have traveled a long and sometimes challenging path that has made it abundantly clear Natchez will be best served by a single, well-supported, operationally strong hospital,” NCH board moderator Sue Stedman said.

“By combining the strengths of both hospitals we can better manage health care resources, better focus capital investments and better bolster physician recruiting efforts to meet the needs of our community.”

CHS officials met with NRMC managers and staff Wednesday morning to talk about future plans.

“I thought it was very well-received,” Robinson said. “They were certainly showing some nervous anxiousness, but excited about the potential of what it could be.”

As the hospitals move toward the consolidation, construction at NRMC will begin in the next several months.

Hospital officials have said construction projects will include:

• Emergency Room optimization to accommodate more patients.

• Reconfiguration of operating room support and recovery areas to enhance operating room capabilities and to allow for greater surgical volumes.

• Renovation and expansion in labor and delivery suites.

• Renovation of patient rooms, nurse stations and visiting areas and the reopening of the mothballed fourth floor at NRMC.

• Improvement to information technology infrastructure to improve the transmission of information and patient data.

Robinson said the hospitals would be doing a needs assessment as the consolidation is implemented to see what other services may be implemented.

The assessment will not only look at what needs the community’s populations have but will be done with direct engagement with the medical staff, he said.

“When I first came here as CEO (at Community) I said we have to stem the flow of outmigration of people who are leaving the area for treatment,” Robinson said. “We should feel some responsibility for patients who are leaving.”

The consolidation will also allow the hospital to better invest by reducing redundancies — for example, the two DaVinci surgical robots in town.

“Instead of having these two buckets with a million dollars in them, you can take the one and keep using it, and you can take the second bucket and invest that million dollars elsewhere,” Robinson said.

While company officials said some personnel changes will be necessary as the transition to a single hospital takes place, NRMC employees will continue in their current positions for the time being and have been able to enroll in CHS company benefits through NCH.

“We’ll need employees on both campuses to assist in consolidation planning and implementation, so it’s too early to know the extent to which staffing changes may be necessary,” Robinson said. “It is our goal to grow services in Natchez and care for a greater number of patients locally.”

“If we have any attrition and we can do without that job for the time right now, we are saving that job later.”

Company officials said CHS is in discussion with third parties for a possible non-acute medical use of the NCH building after the consolidation, but said the process was still too early to discuss.

Dr. Rod Givens, the president of the Homochitto Valley Medical Society, said consolidating the hospitals paves the way for a stronger future for the hospital, patients, physicians and the community.

“As the community sees stability and enhancement of their local health care options, we hope more and more residents realize there is no reason to drive 60 to 90 minutes to receive care in another community,” Givens said.

NRMC was previously owned by Adams County. It was sold during a bankruptcy proceeding that was approved earlier this week.